Polaroid CUBE HD Action Camera Long-Term Review @ ModSynergy.com
ModSynergy has been on the Internet for officially 12 years and 2 months (at the time of this review). Believe it or not, it's been about the same 12 years since a Polaroid product has made its way into our hands for a review. Polaroid was one of very first, and few, companies that helped make our website possible because they were generous enough to send us products to review when no one else wanted to take a chance on a new tiny website from Canada. For that reason alone, Polaroid has a special place in our hearts. Thank you Polaroid!
My oh my, how times have changed over the years. The Polaroid we know today is vastly different than the one we knew of in the past. At one point, we didn't know if Polaroid would cease to exist, it looked like they were going to die because of the digital era, but alas, they have weathered the storm from past to present, film to digital, adapted to the change of the industry, and still stand today 78 years later.
The Polaroid brand name is arguably one of the most recognizable brand names in the world and it would have been a travesty to see them go. Today the Polaroid brand is owned by PLR IP Holdings, LLC. Funny enough it was during the first phases of the digital era that we got to review Polaroid digital cameras on ModSynergy just as digital photography was becoming popular.
Well Polaroid wants a chunk of that lucrative market and have released their new Polaroid CUBE HD action camera. ModSynergy has been testing the Polaroid CUBE for a little over 3 months and we'd like to share with you on our findings.
Polaroid is best known for pioneering instant photography. As a world leader, Polaroid has reinvented instant photography for the digital age. Polaroid CUBE is the next generation of cameras brought to you by a brand you have trusted for over 75 years.
Our story says it all. Polaroid has been a trusted global brand for more than 75 years and is best known for pioneering instant photography since Edwin Land first conceived of the instant camera in 1943. We embrace the nostalgia inherent in our past, allowing us to embrace old technologies through new technologies and beyond.
Polaroid CUBE Product Overview
Itsy-bitsy brilliant! Splash-resistant and shockproof with 1080p HD video and a 124 degree wide-angle lens, the Polaroid Cube is ready for anything.
The Polaroid CUBE HD lifestyle action video camera is weatherproof/splash proof, mountable and built to handle everything you can imagine.
Polaroid CUBE Product Features
Polaroid CUBE Product Specifications
The Polaroid CUBE comes packaged in a compact clear clamshell packaging with the CUBE HD action camera highly visible and suspended in air in the package. The package lets you see the CUBE in all its glory and both packaging and CUBE contains the signature six-color Polaroid Color Spectrum design. A few key features of the CUBE are described on the back of the box in English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish.
Polaroid has set the price of $99USD for the CUBE HD Action Camera making it affordable for the masses and comes in black, red, and blue colors. Opening the package you will find the following items...
The bundle for the Polaroid CUBE is sparse but there's pretty much all you really need to get started minus the micro SD card (32GB maximum) that you must provide on your own. The internal lithium battery is charged via the charge port on the backside of the CUBE with the included micro USB charge & data cable.
Polaroid CUBE does not come bundled with any mounting hardware, those accessories are optional purchases, however, the CUBE has something that other action cameras don't have. A magnet on its bottom. Personally this should be marketed more by Polaroid than it is currently. This is one of the things that sets the CUBE apart from all other action cameras on the market today, the ability to be mounted anywhere that has metal. This magnet is super strong and can be taken advantage of in various ways, and in the three months I've been testing the CUBE, I've found many ways to take advantage of the magnetic base on the CUBE.
For example in a room, you can mount the CUBE on the door hinge mechanism. Or you could mount the CUBE on your car roof, hood, metal panel. Mount the CUBE on metal railing at the skate park, on a fire hydrant, on a metal golf club, anywhere you can think of, the possibilities are endless. Want to go grocery shopping with the CUBE? Mount it on the shopping cart! This magnetic base changes the game in my opinion and even promotes you to create your own DIY mount if you don't want to spend money on accessories. All you need is a coin to stick on something to mount the CUBE on.
Polaroid does have a small lineup of CUBE accessories and mounts (sold separately) which include a bumper case, helmet mount, monkey stand, waterproof case & suction cup mount, bike mount, tripod mount, and strap mount. The accessories and mounts range from $17.99 - $39.99USD so you could end up spending a lot of extra mounts depending on how many you need. Again, the brilliance of a magnetic base means you can build your own mounts for the CUBE saving money in the process.
Polaroid CUBE is miniature in every sense of the word. It measures 35mm or 1.4" in all three dimensions and this has proved in my experience to be very convenient for on the go use, because of the size I do not hesitate to bring the CUBE with me anywhere I go. If I wanted to go shopping for groceries I would just stick it on the shopping cart. If your vehicle has a high enough dashboard, you can stick a quarter on the dash and use the CUBE as a portable dash cam.
CUBE only weighs 46 grams or 0.103 lbs making it extremely lightweight. A microSD card adds 1 gram to that weight.
The CUBE is constructed out of rigid plastic and enclosed in a thin rubberized coating. It's surprisingly solid and there's no flex, no creaking noises, nothing that would suggest that it feels cheap. The plastic body contains a rubberized coating that is noticeably thin but gives it enough texture and grip to feel great in the hand. Polaroid offers a bumper case accessory if you want extra protection.
I've personally dropped the CUBE on the car floor while it was mounted upside down as a car dash cam (with my own 166 gram suction cup). The CUBE dropped on its head probably a couple of times with the extra weight of the suction cup and survived. Over the course of three months the CUBE has proven tough, yes the body has some nicks and scratches associated with wear and tear, being used as a dash cam, thrown into pockets with other items, but it's come out unscathed.
Looking at the black color version of the Polaroid CUBE, you see that the rubberized coating is of matte finish. The rubber coating does pick up lint and dust at a high rate, but that comes with the territory of rubber. Fingerprints on the other hand don't show up that much on the CUBE's rubber body.
I really like how Polaroid protected the 124° wide angle lens by making it mounted inwards in relation to the body of the CUBE. I would have been happy if were just flush with the body, but making it sit inwards is even better and protects the lens from getting hit if it falls on the ground, though there's no guarantees, it depends on the angle of impact. The lens is slightly convex so it sticks out a little further, but having the lens sit inward prevents the lens from sticking out of the body. Technical specifications for the CUBE's 124° wide angle lens says that it is f/2.0 and has a focal length of 3.4mm.
Below the front lens is a single microphone hole.
The signature six-color Polaroid Color Spectrum is wrapped around the left and right sides of the CUBE and give the action camera that extra kick of visual flair.
Coming to the rear of the CUBE we find a removable door that covers the micro SD card slot, micro USB charge port, and resolution selector, and seals them from outside elements. This removable door is locked and unlocked by a twist of a coin. I was able to open and close this back door relatively easy by simply using my fingernails if I didn't have a coin on me to use. A neat feature with this back door cover is that it's also magnetized, so you can simply stick it on the CUBE's magnetic base so you don't lose the small back door cover. Sweet idea Polaroid.
Coming to the top of the CUBE we find a single multifunction button and one LED. After using the CUBE for extended periods of time, I'd come to a conclusion that I would have liked another status LED at the very back of the CUBE.
The multifunction button on the CUBE is very easy to operate and follow. You'll end up remembering the sequence very quickly.
Polaroid CUBE Software
When you insert a microSD card inside the CUBE, the action camera automatically transfers a few files (under 1MB) to the root of your memory card. The CUBE has a small program that allows you to change a few settings on the CUBE.
The settings you can change on the CUBE are...
Some settings that were not in this program but should have been...
The Polaroid CUBE - Any good?
After using the Polaroid CUBE extensively for 3 months and taking into consideration its size, its features, battery life, and its video and picture quality, I have to say that the CUBE is a good little small HD camera. However, good is not great, and good is not excellent, there's a big difference. But all in all I really enjoy and appreciate using the Polaroid CUBE. But with any product, there are downfalls.
In terms of battery life and in relation to the miniature CUBE size of the Polaroid, you have to be realistic and consider that there's simply no way to put a real high capacity battery inside, there's just no space. I'm talking about over 1000mAh in what I consider high capacity for a camera. If I had to guess, I would say the Polaroid CUBE is using maybe a 300-400mAh battery, but again I have no clue. Polaroid rates the battery life at up to 90 minutes of record time but doesn't mention whether they got this time in 720p or 1080p mode. In my own unscientific testing, and left on the highest 1080p mode, I experienced at best about 1 hour and 10 minutes, and in the worst, 35 minutes, and I'm not sure why the big difference between the charges. Maybe the battery on my unit isn't as consistent or as good as it needs to be. But on average usually I see about 50-60 minutes out of a single charge.
The good thing about the Polaroid CUBE is that if you need to shoot longer video, you can connect a portable power bank to the back of the CUBE (with cover off). I've recorded video lasting more than 4 hours using a portable power bank powering the CUBE without issue and without any fuss.
I've had no problems whatsoever with reliability with the Polaroid CUBE, it doesn't get stuck while recording, it doesn't exhibit any glitches, everything has been solid. The only thing that I've noticed with the CUBE is that its picky about what kind of microSD card it accepts. You need a fast microSD card Class 10 or above) or else you'll end up not being to record anything and the CUBE will just endlessly blink orange.
Polaroid CUBE specifications state that still photos are captured at 6-megapixel resolution. They added the word professional while stating 6-megapixel, but there's nothing professional about the photos coming from the CUBE. They are okay photos but nothing to get excited about. They are shot in 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, so they miss a lot of vertical in the photo. Their resolution comes out to 3328 x 1872 and they look clearly interpolated. File size also hints interpolation and even worse, photos are heavily compressed as they range from only 500KB to 1MB in file size. If I would have to guess, these are probably closer to 2-megapixel photos in their native resolution as they look best when downscaled to this size.
One downfall of the photos is that you cannot do macro photography. The lens just cannot get close to an object or else it will become out of focus, you have to take a step or two back to achieve a properly focused photo.
The Polaroid CUBE thankfully takes better videos than it does still photos.
Let me start off with the positives. The CUBE is a simple device, there's one button, and with the CUBE its basically set it and forget it, there's not much in the way of video recording options, even with the software provided.
Polaroid says the CUBE offers 124 degrees of vision with its wide-angle lens and I have no reason not the believe them, the frame is very wide and you can easily get everything you want onto the video. At first I was having a hard time gauging the distance as there is no screen on the CUBE, I didn't know if a certain object was on the screen. After playing back the video, everything and more was on the video. Just point in the general direction and you get everything in the video.
The lens is extremely wide and at normal to long distances, objects and lines have just a slight curvature to them, lines are still relatively straight. It's only if you come up close to an object that you get that fish eye effect where the frame looks like its wrapping around.
The CUBE excels at offering a video that is properly exposed, it handles brightness and contrast very well. The video looks bright, with the right amount of contrast. Contrast is not overblown that it would make the video look harsh and dark, even in the shadowy areas on the video. Shadow detail is good and bright, not dark and crushed (too much black) such as other cameras exhibit in the same scenario.
Colors is another area where CUBE excels. For the most part the colors end up looking natural and representative of what you are seeing with your own eyes, maybe at times a little bit more saturated than it needs to be, and at other times in certain situations looks a little washed out, but it really does a good job in this aspect. It doesn't always get it 100% correct, but it gets it right more than times than not. Colors are generally true to what your own eyes would see and the CUBE manages to keep it right across any lighting conditions, such as sunlight, overcast, dreary, winter weather, rainy weather, incandescent, tungsten, fluorescent, which is impressive for a camera this size. If you see an orangey red color, than the CUBE showcases that same shade of orangey red color, or at least a shade that is very close. Some other video cameras I've used in the past, they simply get the wrong color and shade of color.
Another positive of the Polaroid CUBE is it's night performance, it's above average. I think this has to do more with how the CUBE manages brightness and contrast as I said earlier. This is a continuation of that aspect and the CUBE does a fairly decent good job with night performance. I'm using the CUBE as a portable car dash cam and the night time video with the street lights comes off very well, the CUBE is considerably better (brighter) than my old Flip HD camera and the Kodak Zi8 I reviewed a couple years back in this regard. It has superior low lighting performance than those cameras I've mentioned. And the CUBE locks onto the frame rate no matter how poor the lighting condition is, the video frame rate remains 100% smooth. Night time video has artifacts, grain, and noise but it's disguised well compared to other cameras I've seen in the same scenario.
Another cool feature I found out with the CUBE is that it has an image orientation sensor. So if you record videos upside down and play them back with Apple QuickTime Player, they are shown the right way up. So they end up being automatically rotated when played back using Apple QuickTime Player. However, if you play back the upside down video from the CUBE with any other video player other than Apple QuickTime Player, for example VLC, the video orientation feature does not work and the video remains playing upside down on the computer screen.
Let's now come to the negatives of the Polaroid CUBE.
The main negative of the Polaroid CUBE is low bit rate video. That is data being captured by the camera.
I brought up the issue of compression in regards to the CUBE's camera still photos. Well the aspect of compression also affects the CUBE's HD videos. The Polaroid CUBE suffers from low bit rate and that's a shame because the videos produced by the CUBE could have looked substantially better. The CUBE is not showcasing what it really can do when the videos are clearly compressed (low bit rate).
Polaroid CUBE 1080p videos have only a bit rate of 8Mbps. That's very low bit rate, especially for 1080p. I can understand 8Mbps bit rate for 720p video, but for 1080p, that's just not good enough, especially when displayed on a big screen you see the shortcomings.
For comparison sake, my HTC 8X Smartphone captures video at 20Mbps bit rate, and therefore has better detail, cleaner video, better sharpness, better colors, less artifacts, to name a few things that high bit rate does better.
Because of this low bit rate video, the Polaroid CUBE videos lacks real detail. The video looks very soft and not sharp, they generally lack true color rendition, you see more grain and artifacts in the video, in moving objects you see mushy blocky pixels or macro blocking, the video has low sharpness, and sometimes you notice flat colors, it's because the camera cannot capture all the data it wants with only 8Mbps bit rate.
Another example I'm going to give of how low bit rate affects the Polaroid CUBE's HD videos, well take a video of the brick house across the street. With the CUBE's low bit rate, the video reveals that you cannot see the lines separating the bricks. They are all soft and hazy, there's no discernable line to make out. There's just a lack of detail. The same thing can be said with the house number, on the Polaroid CUBE video, you cannot see the house number across the street, the image is too soft, too out of focus, just a lack of fine detail. That's sad. If you want to read the house number then you have to go closer with the Polaroid CUBE.
A big problem caused by low bit rate video is the softness of the video and the lack of sharpness. The CUBE exhibits all these problems. The lens is more softer on the ends of the frame (its soft in general). This is softness of video is partly due to low bit rate and also partly due to actual lens. The lens on the Polaroid CUBE seems relatively clear in the center, but as you go off center towards the edges, the image becomes really soft and not clear.
Another downfall of the lens on the CUBE is that you cannot record too close to an object or else the object will become out of focus, you have to take a couple of steps back and they object is in focus. This means any macro video is not possible with the CUBE.
So why did Polaroid choose such a low bit rate? I'm guessing it comes down to the CUBE's battery life. Compromises needed to be made to achieve decent battery life and having high bit rate video nets worse battery life as the camera works harder to capture all the detail possible in high bit rate video.
The only good thing, if you want to see a positive from a negative, is that low bit rate video means that the video file is substantially smaller. So you can record more video with less space taken up on your micro SD card.
Lastly, I should mention with the Polaroid CUBE that it records video in 5 minute segments/clips. There's no way in turning that off or changing that value.
Nothing to get excited about, it does an okay job. It's fairly clear, however, at times it becomes muffled for no apparent reason. The microphone being in the front means you have a lot of potential whooshing wind noise. It is prone to wind noise. They probably could have positioned the microphone somewhere else to help reduce wind noise but it is what it is. No external microphone capability.
Original Test Images & Video Samples
1080p Samples (Uploaded to YouTube)
(Keep in mind the original CUBE video files are a bit better than what YouTube showcases. YouTube likes to compress video uploads even further to maximize efficiency on their end. Original CUBE video files are cleaner than what you see on YouTube, let this be a general idea of what you can expect.)
Polaroid Tripod Mount - Quick Take
I was sent the Polaroid tripod mount to test with the CUBE and here's my thoughts on it. Overall the tripod mount is a great little unit for most scenarios. However, I could envision the tripod mount being made even better, more secure with the CUBE on it, by taking advantage of the magnet on the CUBE's underside. It doesn't make much sense to me why they did not utilize a magnet in the tripod mount design. The magnet is in my opinion one of the best features of the CUBE, to not take advantage of it in your mounting hardware does a disservice to the action camera. It's also a little bit expensive in my opinion.
The tripod mount is tough enough being constructed out of hard plastic and its small. It does a great job if you don't put the CUBE through any movement. I have no major qualms with it, I just experienced some wobbles, a little shakiness with the CUBE being on the tripod mount when used as a portable dash cam while it was connected to a suction cup. This shakiness only happened if your vehicle or whatever you placed it in had a hard suspension, this wobble and shakiness did not happen if you had a vehicle with soft suspension that could absorb most of the vibrations of the road.
I also noticed that while the CUBE was placed on the tripod mount, it could be moved rather freely and become off center depending on what situation you place it in. That's why I suggested that Polaroid should have placed a magnet on the tripod mount to basically secure the CUBE into place and not have any potential vibration move the CUBE off center or cause any shakiness with the CUBE shaking inside the mount.
I did notice that the tripod mount, after extended usage of the CUBE being placed on and off the mount, does end up mucking up, marking up, scuffing up the microphone hole area of the CUBE. It's because there's really no real area on the CUBE where the tripod mount can 100% latch onto securing the CUBE, aside from the backside micro SD/USB port ball cover. Again, if the mount utilized the magnet this wouldn't have been the case.
The tripod mount uses a metal tripod screw thread at the bottom, which is great to see. Plastic screw threads don't hold up well over time.
Where Can I Buy One? And for How Much?
The Polaroid CUBE HD Action Camera can be purchased through Amazon for $99.99 USD with free shipping.
Why do I like Amazon? They are fast, reliable, honest, and return policy is great. I actually got money refunded back to my account after Amazon overcharged me on duty costs, talk about being an honest company, most others would keep the money and not say anything!
If you are thinking of purchasing the Polaroid CUBE HD Action Camera, or anything else for that matter, please use our Amazon link above, it will help us out greatly.
Some Amazon Deals That May Interest You!
Despite all the negatives I've talked about, and it seems like there are a lot, I still really enjoy the Polaroid CUBE HD Action Camera. I love it so much that I can brush aside the negatives. I love the small miniature size because it allows me to not worry and hesitate in bringing the CUBE with me anywhere I go. I love the strong magnetic bottom because the possibilities are endless on where you can stick it to and there's always a way. The CUBE is strong and has survived multiple drops on the ground, it's just a fun little HD action camera. It has fairly good video quality despite recording at low bit rate.
If Polaroid ever makes a second generation CUBE action camera, even a bigger brother version with better battery life, I hope they take into account my findings, offer higher bit rate video, add more options in the software to tweak various aspects of the camera like auto start feature, and I'm sure they will be selling many. The Polaroid CUBE is an excitingly simple and lovable HD action camera. Recommended!